House Approves District's Budget, $560 Million in Aid
Leaders Reject Letting Noncitizens Vote
By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 21, 2004; Page B01
The House of Representatives approved the District's 2005 budget and $560 million in direct federal aid yesterday after Republican leaders promised to prevent the D.C. Council from granting some non-U.S. citizens the right to vote in city elections.
The 371 to 54 House vote sends the $8.2 billion bill to the Senate, which has not scheduled action.
Because of election-year partisan gridlock, Senate appropriators expect the District bill to be folded into a catchall federal spending measure late this year. Any differences over spending measures will be worked out in House-Senate talks.
Swift House passage came after GOP leaders persuaded Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) to drop an amendment that would have prohibited District officials from changing local election law to allow immigrants who are permanent U.S. residents to vote.
"Passage would eliminate one of the few remaining distinctions between noncitizens and citizens, and I think, frankly, it's not too much to ask that being a U.S. citizen is required to vote in an American election," Tancredo said.
Tancredo said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, which oversees the District, had pledged that Congress would not permit such a change to become law. Davis's spokesman, David Marin, confirmed Tancredo's account.
Last week, before the D.C. Council took its summer recess, council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and four of the 12 other council members introduced legislation to extend the franchise to noncitizens who are legal, permanent residents. About 40,000 noncitizens age 18 or older, about 9 percent of the voting-age population, live in the District, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.
The heart of the city's immigrant community is based in Graham's ward, which includes such neighborhoods as Columbia Heights and Adams Morgan. Graham said permanent residents pay taxes and have children in the public school system. He said the U.S. Supreme Court has held that while Congress determines who can vote in federal elections, states determine suffrage for state and local elections.
Congress has the constitutional authority to stop D.C. laws before they take effect during a 30-day review period but has seldom used that power during the 30 years of home rule. More often, Congress intervenes by including riders in the District budget, such as the one that bars the city from spending public money for free drug-needle exchange programs to combat AIDS.
Regarding Graham's bill, Marin said: "Every indication is that the council will not pass this bill, so the point is, a preemptive strike [by amendment] was unnecessary."
Tancredo's amendment "should send a very interesting message to Republicans in California, Texas, New Mexico, Florida -- need I continue -- about the Republican Party's views on immigrants and Latinos, specifically," Graham said.
A half-dozen U.S. cities, including Chicago and Takoma Park, permit noncitizens who are permanent residents to vote in school board elections. Before a nativist movement in the early 20th century, 22 states allowed legal aliens to vote.
To permit quick passage of the D.C. budget bill, Democrats withdrew an amendment seeking to redirect $4 million from a federal school voucher pilot program to D.C. public schools, and Republicans did not attempt to add a prohibition on recognizing same-sex marriages in the District.
Lawmakers -- including Reps. Rodney P. Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) and Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Davis -- credited bipartisan cooperation and the District's improving fiscal management for the bill's rapid passage. Norton said the House passed the bill in the shortest time in her seven terms in Congress.
Staff writer Lori Montgomery and staff researchers Mary Lou White and Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company